Microsoft forecasts a hybrid new normal of work in Asia-Pacific

A whitepaper by Microsoft, with research from TechRepublic Premium,  “Transitioning Asia-Pacific to a New Normal of Work” was conceived where businesses and thought leaders across industries – banking, healthcare, education, telecommunications, research, and professional consultancies – shared their insights on how organisational cultures in Asia-Pacific are evolving to a new paradigm of work.

“Traditional ways of working have become things of the past. We have gone from working in conference rooms to working in living rooms, adjusting to new blended work environments, while adopting a more digital way of working. Based on our findings, Microsoft Teams, our collaboration and productivity tool has clocked in about 200 million meeting participants each day, which equates to 4.1 billion minutes of meetings. Those data points are a testament to the tremendous movement to remote work in the world,” said Michal Golebiewski, Chief Marketing & Operations Officer, Microsoft Malaysia.

”Closer to home, organisations in Malaysia have also had to adapt to the new ways of working. I believe this will continue to grow the demand for automation and collaboration tools as well as the shift to cloud computing, further accelerating Malaysia’s digital transformation agenda,” he added.

With Covid-19 accelerating the transition to new ways of working across Malaysia, some of the emerging trends that organizations need to be aware of as they plan for the new normal of work include:

  1. The risk of burnout: Organisations need to be mindful of the new perception of availability as the lines of work and personal life are blurring.  Microsoft’s second Work Trend Index found that beyond the typical 9am-5pm workday, Microsoft Teams chats outside of the typical workday (from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.) have increased more than any other time during the day, between 15 percent and 23 percent. Weekend work is spiking as well – Teams chats on and Saturday and Sunday have increased over 200 percent. The hybrid approach in the future of work underlines the need to re-draw boundaries for out-of-hours contact.
  • Career progression concerns: Organisations will need to reassess how performance is measured. Collaboration tools can measure activity but not the value that an individual has brought to the organisation. Organisations are now finding that it is the “introverts” that are delivering while working from home, while the “star player” extroverts are no longer the center of attention.
  • The need for flexibility and empathy: Research finds that nearly half (47 percent) of people working from home reported managing at-home distractions as a challenge. Organisations as well as managers and teammates should do their part to not only help employees create a distraction-free environment but also be more flexible in the delivery of work and empathise with people’s challenges of working from home.
  • Tech training and preparedness: As technology becomes a growing staple for employees, training will need to go hand-in-hand to unlock the full potential of hardware and software.
  • Incorporating a social element: Organisations need to intentionally focus on policy and company culture rather than raw technology. The Microsoft Work Trend Index released in April 2020 reflected this ongoing quest for human interaction – the number of people turning on video in Microsoft Teams meetings had doubled from before working from home became mainstream. Beyond enabling video conferencing, organisations need to find ways to encourage innovation, creative flow of ideas, and camaraderie that makes an employee feel that they are a valued part of an organisation.

Amid the pandemic, Microsoft found that while organisations have prioritised technology adoption to enable remote working environments and overall business transformation, the change was not driven through technology alone.

Weighing in on this, Hamidah Naziadin, Group Chief People Officer, CIMB Bank said “Covid-19 had accelerated digital transformation that organisations have been driving. For organisations to remain competitive and resilient, however, focusing on technology alone is not sustainable. There is an urgent need to prioritise the alignment of people with the organisation’s technology and business strategy. The people agenda must evolve promptly to drive home an agenda embracing digital transformation with reskilling and upskilling.”  In 2018, CIMB launched a 5-year digital transformation plan and “Future of Work” agenda, as part of a comprehensive effort to digitally empower its businesses and workforce with the set-up of 3D Academy to equip its workforce with 3D skills, that is, digital, data and design thinking skills.

To further help equip the workforce with imperative digital skills for success, Microsoft launched a global skilling initiative together with LinkedIn and GitHub. Through this programme, more than 25 million people worldwide are able to access learning resources for free, particularly for high-demand roles of tomorrow.

In addition to the role of technology and people as key enablers, social and cultural environments also have a considerable impact on how organisations approach the new normal of work.

According to Esther Loo, Head of Organization Design & Effectiveness, Malaysia Aviation Group, the future of work will also see a break down in hierarchy. “Roles within an organisation have become almost borderless, creating a much more fluid way of working. This agility is enabled through digital transformation and is made possible through upskilling and reskilling of employees and it has become an essential part of business sustainability in this new normal. As such, organisations today are increasingly working towards equipping their workforce with 3D skills, namely digital skills, data skills, and design thinking skills. These are critical skills that can help organizations leverage the potential of technology, thus driving business growth and resilience in today’s world of remote everything.”

Meanwhile, countries with expensive real estate will find financial benefit in transitioning to a model where the office space is shared and cycled among employees that spend part of the time in the office, and other times working from home. This is the case for many offices in Malaysia already, who have returned to work on a rotational basis, keeping workforce capacity in the office at a minimal level to ensure adherence to national guidelines and regulations whilst keeping employees safe.  

“Technology is fast reshaping and transforming the future of work. We saw two years’ worth of digital transformation happening in two months, and it is critical for organizations to review their digital workplace strategies to remain competitive and productive. These may include accelerating the process of developing policies enabling individuals to break away from the standard office hours, setting reasonable expectations around availability and relooking performance indicators,” said Michal.

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